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Krejcikova, Karatsev soar as Sydney semis set

  • Alex Sharp

Big-time stars pulled off big-time performances as box-office semifinal line-ups were locked in at the Sydney Tennis Classic on Thursday. 
Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova relinquished just two games to earn a clash with fourth seed Anett Kontaveit.  

Men's top seed Aslan Karatsev found the answers to navigate past Italy's Lorenzo Sonego, and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray remains in the trophy hunt too.  

Elsewhere, Daria Kasatkina utilised her versatility to clinch a first top-five win since 2018 with a 6-4 6-4 scoreline over second seed Garbine Muguruza. 

"I think this is the best (season) start of my career ever," said the elated Russian, also a semifinalist at Melbourne Summer Set 2 last week.  
"Playing Garbine on the big stages of the tournament, it always feels special. For sure it's gonna give me the confidence, because last thing she won was the WTA Finals." 

Helped by a strong serving performance, where she won 83 per cent of points off first delivery, Kasatkina was able to combine her full repertoire of looping strokes, disguised drop shots and altering paces to keep the world No.3 off-balance. 
"I think it's also very good preparation before a slam, because it feels different to play on the big courts against a big player," added the 24-year-old.  
"At the beginning I was maybe a bit overexcited, I wanted to do too much, but at the end I was able to control myself and took few good decisions and happy with the result." 
The world No.26 expects a "super competitive" clash up against fifth seed Paula Badosa. The Spaniard edged Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic 7-6(6) 3-6 6-3 to reach the last four.  

Earlier on Thursday, Krejcikova needed just 68 minutes to breeze past Caroline Garcia 6-0 6-2, but isn't getting carried away.  
"I think I was playing solid today. I think with every single match I'm getting better and better," said the Czech. 

Krejcikova took just over an hour to make the last four

"I just focus on the next ball. I'm not really thinking about how many games I'm leading or how many games I won. I go really point by point." 
World No.7 Kontaveit was up 6-4 on Ons Jabeur until the Tunisian unfortunately retired with a lower back injury. Kontaveit, who stormed to four titles in the second half of 2021, posted a straight-sets victory over Krejcikova back in November at the WTA Finals. 
"I think it's going to be a huge match. Anett, she's on a big roll," said world No.4 Krejcikova. 

"Will see where my level is right now and how well was the off-season." 
The Estonian echoed that sentiment, relishing the chance to tackle another elite talent in preparation for next week's Australian Open.  
"I'm really looking forward to the challenge to play another top-10 player," said Kontaveit. 

"I'm glad to be putting myself in these situations and getting good matches and getting quality time on court. 
"I've been fairly happy with my level … There haven't been huge dips in my game, so I feel like the consistency and keeping the aggressive style of play has been working so far." 
In the men's event, top seed Karatsev continued to be boosted by a feel-good factor in Sydney. 
The Australian Open 2021 semifinalist was forced to find higher gears to edge fifth seed Sonego 6-2 3-6 6-2 in nearly three hours of high-quality action.  

Karatsev is showing signs of another strong Australian summer

"At the beginning of the year, second match, these are really tough," said the 28-year-old.  
"I tried to find my game, I started really well but then there were ups and downs in the second set. I found my rhythm again so I'm very happy with this match." 
There was an immediate smile when his magic run from qualifying to the final four at Melbourne Park last year was mentioned during an on-court interview.  
"It's really, really nice. I wish I could defend those points every year in Australia, to show incredible tennis again. Yeah, really happy to be back." 
Brit Dan Evans hit a collection of sizzling backhand passes and sumptuous lobs to overcome the serve and volley prowess of Melbourne Summer Set 1 finalist Maxime Cressy 6-4 7-6(5) in a hotshot-laden match late on Thursday night. Karatsev awaits Evans on Friday.  

Evans was elated after curtailing Cressy

Murray advanced to his first semifinal since October 2019 when eighth seed David Goffin was forced to retire with a knee injury.  

The former world No.1 was leading 6-2, building on his midnight marathon epic over Nikoloz Basilashvili (also his opening opponent at the Australian Open,) before the Belgian called time.  
The five-time Australian Open finalist will shoot for the Sydney final hoping to the quell the threat of heavy-serving American Reilly Opelka. The fourth seed had too much firepower for Next Gen youngster Brandon Nakashima, winning 7-6(4) 6-2.